Our Untrustworthy, Perplexing, Depressing State Legislators

As a passionate supporter of American democracy in both practice and theory, I find the proliferation of ignoramuses, fools and morons among both elected representatives and the voters who allow them to acquire access to the levers of power to be a constant source of discouragement. The old adage about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others is scant consolation, true as it may be. I only tune in to the reliably idiotic goings on at the state legislature level when someone or some news story forces me to take a look, which I anticipate with enthusiasm akin to that I felt toward going down into our scary basement when I was a kid. (OK, up until I moved away at 21. OK, STILL.)

Here are two examples from today….that I know about.

Alabama took another step toward near-total abortion ban legislation, House Bill 314, the “Human Life Protection Act.”  The Republican-supported bill is  in  direct defiance of 1973’s Supreme Court  Roe v. Wade ruling, an obvious gambit to try to get the conservative Roberts court to overturn it. Grandstanding, obstinacy, call it what you will, this bill is futile, foolish, and incompetent. An outright reversal of Roe is not in the cards, not even in the most fevered fantasies of anti-abortion fanatics and pro-abortion absolutists. The new law, if it becomes a law, will be struck down by a the highest Alabama court, and won’t make it to the Supreme Court docket. It’s an illegal law, that’s all. A law reestablishing child labor or repealing female suffrage would have about as much chance of getting the Court’s attention.

If Roe is to be weakened or modified, it will occur incrementally, with the Court ruling on legitimately debatable regulations regarding when a fetus or unborn child qualifies for full Constitutional protection. It is understandable that ordinary, untrained, confused citizens might think that the way to remove established Court precedent is to directly oppose it with a state law, but  that’s because, for most of them, making laws isn’t their job. State legislators, on the other hand, have no excuse but their own lack of preparation for their civic duty, and ignorance. Continue reading

Family Ethics: Three Kennedys Choose The Public Good Over Family Loyalty. Excellent.

Three members of the fabled Kennedy Clan, that of Joseph P. and Rose, JFK, RFK and Ted, Caroline and the Late John-John, and all the rest, have publicly rebuked their vocal anti-vaxxer family member, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in a statement signed by his siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy II, as well , Maeve Kennedy McKean, who is the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiatives, and calls RFK jr, “Uncle Bob.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the former chair of the Global Virus Network. [Full disclosure: she was also a resident in my undergrad House, Lowell House,  while I was in college, and we knew each other a little bit] and Joseph P. Kennedy II, a former member of Congress from Massachusetts, is the chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation.

Beginning with an overview of the harm caused by  Americans avoiding vaccines, including the current measles outbreak, the three write in Politico,

These tragic numbers are caused by the growing fear and mistrust of vaccines—amplified by internet doomsayers. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—Joe and Kathleen’s brother and Maeve’s uncle—is part of this campaign to attack the institutions committed to reducing the tragedy of preventable infectious diseases. He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.

We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment. His work to clean up the Hudson River and his tireless advocacy against multinational organizations who have polluted our waterways and endangered families has positively affected the lives of countless Americans. We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong.

And his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences. The challenge for public health officials right now is that many people are more afraid of the vaccines than the diseases, because they’ve been lucky enough to have never seen the diseases and their devastating impact. But that’s not luck; it’s the result of concerted vaccination efforts over many years. We don’t need measles outbreaks to remind us of the value of vaccination.

It is impossible to overstate what a stunning departure this joint essay (titled “RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines”) is from the traditions and practices of the Kennedy Family. It, they, all of them, have guarded the Kennedy name and legacy like Cerberus at the gates of Hell. They have intimidated historians, artists, government officials, prosecutors and others from actions and revelations that would expose the ugly (ugly, oh-so ugly) side of  many of the family’s most celebrated members.

I directed the first professional production of a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis that avoided or debunked the various myths carefully embedded in the official narrative to make President Kennedy the hero of the event, when he most definitely was not.  The play had been blocked by the Kennedys twice. Continue reading

Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship

From the New York Times:

Amazon has removed the online listings for two books that claim to contain cures for autism, a move that follows recent efforts by several social media sites to limit the availability of anti-vaccination and other pseudoscientific material. The books, “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” and “Fight Autism and Win,” which had previously been listed for sale in Amazon’s marketplace, were not available on Wednesday. The company confirmed that the listings had been removed, but declined to discuss why or whether similar books would be taken down in the future.

And what does “similar books” mean?

Based on what I’ve seen from our tech giants, “similar books” could soon include a scientist’s arguments against climate change, a hagiography of President Trump, or an expose of the  misconduct of the Obama Administration. Amazon has decided that anti-vax arguments are dangerous and wrong, and though I happen to agree with them, it is not Amazon’s job to decide what ideas, positions, opinions and theories are worthy of public consumption. Amazon dominated the book retail business (and many other businesses as well). Its censorship policies constrain debate, the free expression of ideas, and the expression of dissent from the majority.

Defenders of civil liberties and freedom of speech must express their disapproval of Amazon’s Big Brother act, even if it has the “right” to abuse its power, and even if it isn’t the government choosing which citizens to muzzle. Conduct like this places me squarely on the side of Elizabeth Warren, who is advocating breaking up companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. When we start allowing speech labeled “dangerous” or “untrue” to be blocked, no matter who is doing the blocking, then we are damaging our democracy and the free circulation of ideas, as well as abetting elite attempts at thought control.

 

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/29/19: Sick Room Edition

I hope you’re feeling better than I am.

1. Sick Ethics. Being sick on the job is always an ethical conflict, and riddled with bias. My father’s approach, so characteristic of him as someone who insisted on going into the Battle of the Bulge as an officer with a mangled, recently-repaired foot that was still oozing blood, was to ignore the illness and soldier on. There are two problems with that, however. First, you are working at diminished capacity, and second, you risk infecting others. The problem is a bit easier when you have a home office like I do, but there is still a trade-off issue: if I “soldier on” like my father, do I risk a longer illness and reduced capacity for far longer than if I just took a day or two off to recuperate? In my case, this is always a tough call: I am very vulnerable to bronchitis and pneumonia following chest colds (that’s what I’ve got, big time, starting last night), and when the stuff I cough up starts attacking me through the Kleenex, I’m in big trouble that has sometimes lasted for months. There is also a bias problem when you feel rotten. Right now, I would love to lie down. I can’t think of anything I would like more. I bet I can rationalize air-tight reasons why I should lie down, despite all of the very valid reason not to.

2. And speaking of sick...All 50 states require vaccinations before children to attend school, but 47 of them  (California, Mississippi and West Virginia are the exceptions) allow parents to opt out of vaccines if they have religious beliefs against immunizations. Eighteen states also allow parents to opt out of vaccines if they have personal, moral or philosophical beliefs against immunizations, including beliefs that they can think straight when they are in fact idiots and get their medical advice from Jenny McCarthy and other hysterical anti-vaxxers. Oregon and Washington are among the states that allow for a parent’s personal beliefs to exempt their kids from being immunized, along with Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Vermont.

You know. Morons. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunces: Ten Prominent Doctors, Surgeons and Med School Professors Who Want Columbia To Kick Dr. Oz Off Its Faculty”

The late Prof. George Wald, the best teacher I ever had. In biology, not political science. George did not acknowledge the distinction.

The late Prof. George Wald, the best teacher I ever had. In biology, not political science. George did not acknowledge the distinction.

Commenter Alexander Cheezem, who has quite a bit of expertise (also passion) on such matters, weighed in on the current controversy over the “quackery” of daytime TV star “Dr. Oz.” This time I’ll hold my comments until the end; here is Alex’s excellent Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Dunces: Ten Prominent Doctors, Surgeons and Med School Professors Who Want Columbia To Kick “Dr. Oz” Off Its Faculty:

I’m going to have to both agree and disagree with you here. First off, I applaud Columbia University’s response and agree that the principle of academic freedom is applicable here… to a point.

Secondly, however, I’m going to have to disagree with you regarding the parallels. Linus Pauling was an embarrassment to medicine, not chemistry. Wald was overly passionate about politics, not biology. Nagel’s views on biology are an embarrassment, not his views on what he’s supposed to be actually teaching. Chomsky’s forays into political science may be an embarrassment (personally, I regard them as something of a mixed bag), but that’s not what he was the professor of, is it?

Kass, McKinnon, Harper, and Singer are closer parallels, of course, but there’s still one rather huge difference: Dr. Oz is a doctor… and runs his show as one. It is, as the comedian John Oliver put it, the Dr. Oz Show, not “Check This Shit Out With Some Guy Named Mehmet”. This is quite relevant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that offering medical advice is within the scope of what doctors do. Offering that advice while invoking his medical license as a relevant qualification, simply put, can be considered part of the actual practice of medicine. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Ten Prominent Doctors, Surgeons and Med School Professors Who Want Columbia To Kick “Dr. Oz” Off Its Faculty

Dr Oz

Perhaps they tried this because Columbia has been having a bad ethics year so far… that could be it, I guess.

For the record, here are are the ten prominent individuals in the field of medicine who called on Columbia University to kick Dr. Mehmet Oz, better known to Oprah fans and junk TV addicts as “Dr.Oz,” off its medical school’s faculty:

Henry I. Miller, M.D.
Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy
& Public Policy
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Scott W. Atlas, M.D.
David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
Stanford, CA

Jack Fisher, M.D.
Professor of Surgery (emeritus)
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA

Shelley Fleet, M.D.
Anesthesiologist
Longwood, FL

Gordon N. Gill, M.D.
Dean (emeritus) of Translational Medicine
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA

Michael H. Mellon, M.D.
Pediatric Allergist
San Diego, CA

Gilbert Ross, M.D.
President (Acting) and Executive Director
American Council on Science and Health
New York, NY

Samuel Schneider, M.D.
Psychiatrist
Princeton, NJ

Glenn Swogger Jr. M.D.
Director of the Will Menninger Center for Applied Behavioral Sciences (retired)The Menninger Foundation
Topeka, KS

Joel E. Tepper, M.D.
Hector MacLean Distinguished Professor of Cancer Research
Dept of Radiation Oncology
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Chapel Hill, NC

And here is their letter. They are troubled because “Dr. Oz” has embraced dubious products and health promotion techniques on his TV show. Indeed he has. On TV, Dr. Oz is a quack. He uses his medical credentials to, as the letter says, show “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine” and to display  “baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops.”  And no one can deny that  “he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

None of which is justification for taking him off the faculty, where his teaching duties are unrelated to his lucrative TV persona, and are the direct result of his recognized expertise in cardiothoracic surgery.

Could it be that all of these doctors—including Professors Tepper and Fisher, and Dean Gill— have never encountered the sacred educational principle of  academic freedom? Continue reading